A tasty, budget-friendly meal

When search­ing for the per­fect     present for a new moth­er, the gift of your time is al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated. Pre­par­ing a meal for the fam­ily, present­ing it in a pretty cas­ser­ole dish that she can keep, and in­clud­ing the re­cipe with the cas­ser­ole makes a great gift and keep­sake for the new moth­er.

A cas­ser­ole de­scribes both the con­tain­er and the con­tents. Cas­ser­oles have been pre­pared since the earli­est times and can be a sa­vory or sweet dish. Cas­ser­oles be­came pop­u­lar in Amer­ica dur­ing the De­pres­sion and grew in pop­ular­ity in­to the 1940s. Then and now, in times of eco­nom­ic hard­ship, a cas­ser­ole is the per­fect way to feed a fam­ily on a budget. 

In the 1950s, con­veni­ence was the main reas­on for the con­tinu­ing pop­ular­ity of cas­ser­oles. Mod­ern cooks liked the ease of open­ing a few cans and pack­ages to cre­ate a meal. When I was a new bride and col­lege stu­dent in 1975, cas­ser­oles were the per­fect rem­edy for my woe­fully lim­ited cook­ing skills and lack of time. 

A cas­ser­ole is an easy way to cre­ate a budget-friendly meal, or to stock my freez­er with crowd-pleas­ing dishes that can be re­heated in the mi­crowave. It’s also the per­fect meal and gift for a new moth­er and her fam­ily.

This re­cipe for bean and cheese tor­tilla cas­ser­ole freezes well, can be in­creased to feed more people fairly eas­ily, or trans­formed from a ve­get­ari­an dish to in­clude the meat of your choice.

Bean and Cheese Tor­tilla Cas­ser­ole

You can add cooked and crumbled ground meat or shred­ded chick­en to this ve­get­ari­an cas­ser­ole, if de­sired. Just place the meat on top of the bean sauce and con­tin­ue with the dir­ec­tions.

3 cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1 ta­ble­spoon olive oil

3/4 cup chopped onion

1 tea­spoon minced gar­lic

1 tea­spoon salt

1 tea­spoon freshly ground black pep­per

3 cups ve­get­able or chick­en broth

1-1/2 cups mild to me­di­um salsa

1 ta­ble­spoon chili powder

1/2 ta­ble­spoon cumin

1/2 tea­spoon dried oregano

12 corn tor­til­las

2-1/2 cups shred­ded Manchego, Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese

Mex­ic­an cream or reg­u­lar sour cream, for   drizz­ling, op­tion­al

4 ta­ble­spoons chopped cil­antro, op­tion­al

1. Pre­heat the oven to 350 F.

2. In a mi­crowave-safe bowl, com­bine olive oil, onion, gar­lic, salt and pep­per, and heat on high for 4 minutes un­til the onion is soft. 

3. Us­ing food pro­cessor or blender, com­bine onion mix­ture, beans, broth, salsa, chili powder, cumin and oregano to­geth­er un­til smooth. Pour bean mix­ture back in­to a bowl and mi­crowave on high for 6 to 7 minutes, or un­til the beans are hot.

4. Place about 1/2 cup of the bean sauce in­to the bot­tom of an 8 to 9-inch square bak­ing pan or cas­ser­ole dish. Place 4 of the tor­til­las, with the sides over­lap­ping, on top of the bean sauce. Sprinkle with the shred­ded cheese. Cov­er with an­oth­er 1/2 cup of the bean sauce. Place an­oth­er 4 tor­til­las, with sides over­lap­ping, on the bean sauce. Sprinkle with the shred­ded cheese. Re­peat bean sauce, tor­til­las and fin­ish with cheese lay­er. Bake un­til the cheese is melted about 10 to 15 minutes. 

To serve, drizzle with Mex­ic­an sour cream or plain Greek yogurt and chopped cil­antro, if de­sired.

Serves 4. ••

An­gela Shelf Medear­is is an award-win­ning chil­dren’s au­thor, culin­ary his­tor­i­an and the au­thor of sev­en cook­books. Her new cook­book is “The Kit­chen Diva’s Dia­bet­ic Cook­book.” Her Web site is www.di­vapro.com 

  To see how-to videos, re­cipes and much, much more, Like An­gela Shelf Medear­is, The Kit­chen Diva! on Face­book and go to Hulu.com

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